Sagebrush Rebellion Redux in New Mexico?

By Walter Szymanski, Rio Grande Chapter member

At the invitation of New Mexico’s Southwestern County Commission Alliance (SWCCA) and the Council of Border Conservation Districts, a fast-talking lawyer and Republican state representative from Utah named Ken Ivory made a presentation to about 60 attendees at a meeting in Deming on Dec. 3, 2012, urging them to follow his state’s lead and push for legislation in New Mexico to “take back” national public lands.

Organized primarily by Grant County Commissioner Gabriel Ramos, SWCCA was formed in June 2012 through a joint-powers agreement among six southwest New Mexico counties: Grant, Hidalgo, Catron, Luna, Socorro and Sierra. Otero and Doña Ana counties declined SWCCA’s invitation to join the alliance.

SWCCA’s actions to date include opposing critical habitat designation for the jaguar, asking Gov. Susana Martinez to remove “problem” Mexican gray wolves, strongly opposing the closing of any roads in the Gila National Forest under the Forest Service’s Travel Management Plan, and opposing the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument proposal — even though the proposed location is not in any of the six counties in the alliance’s jurisdiction.

SWCCA is also preparing a demand to the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission to keep Gila River water in New Mexico. “Keep the water in New Mexico” is code for “we support a major diversion of Gila River water under the Arizona Water Settlements Act.”
As to the New Mexico land-grab scheme, Ivory is the chief sponsor of Utah’s House Bill 148, which demands that the U.S. government turn over to his state the title to 22 million acres of federal lands in Utah by Dec. 31, 2014. Ivory pushed for passage of HB 148, and Utah Republican Gov. Gary Herbert signed it into law in March 2012, in spite of the fact that the Utah Legislature’s legal counsel issued a warning that HB 148 has a “high probability of being declared unconstitutional.”

Because they both originated from the secretive American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a right-wing corporate front group that also drafted the 1995 “Sagebrush Rebellion Act,” HB 148 is almost word-for-word the same as the one Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed in May. One of the reasons given by Gov. Brewer for her veto was that the legislation appeared “to be in conflict or not reconcilable with [the] U.S. Constitution.”

After Gov. Brewer vetoed that legislation, the Arizona state legislature put it on the ballot for the Nov. 6 election, where Arizona citizens resoundingly rejected it by more than a 2-to-1 ratio.
Utah state Rep. Ivory also said that “his” ALEC-crafted bill differs from Arizona’s ALEC-crafted bill in that Utah has no intention of selling off federal public lands conveyed back to Utah. If so, why does HB 148 contain a provision, exactly like the one in Arizona’s vetoed and publicly rejected legislation, that requires Utah to pay the federal government no less than 95 percent of the proceeds from sales of former federal public lands Utah sells off to the highest bidder?

Ivory said he’s disappointed in Gov. Brewer’s veto but is going forward with his plan “to educate other states” about his Sagebrush Rebellion Redux ideas. In fact, it was announced at the Deming meeting that Ivory and N.M. Rep. Yvette Herrell (Otero County) would meet with Gov. Martinez to enlist her support for similar legislation in our state.

Gov. Martinez and all New Mexico officials and legislators should in no uncertain terms tell Ivory “Thanks, but no thanks.” New Mexico should follow Arizona’s lead and resoundingly reject any attempt to embroil our state in a cockamamie land-grabbing pipe dream to mine and drill our national public lands for maximum profit, wildlife and environment be damned.